Little Bourke Street – time to give pedestrians priority (source: Victoria Walks)

In this week’s Tw3, The Urbanist comments on:

  • Make Little Bourke Street shared or car-free
  • Shortlist revealed: 2017 National Architecture Awards
  • Sydney’s Cloud Arch critics and our mean-spirited approach to public art
  • Should bike helmets be mandatory? Bicycle Network reviews its support of Australian law
  • Parliament house fence: a plague on both our houses
  • Reason Sydney outside top 10 cities in global liveability index is not terrorism
  • Sorry Melbourne, but you’re no Sydney, so stop trying so damn hard

Make Little Bourke Street shared or car-free

Lots of walkers & occasional car on Lt Bourke show wrong priorities of allocating road space. Make shared or car free!

An eminently sensible proposal from Victoria Walks. For the umpteenth time, here are the key reasons why use of cars should be drastically reduced in the city centre:

  • The high value of activities and high pedestrian densities place a big premium on amenity in the city centre, yet cars damage its agreeableness through noise, pollution, danger, delay and reducing the scope for other options such as outdoor recreation and dining
  • Cars are at their least useful in the centre of the metropolitan area where there’s limited road space, a huge concentration of activities, excellent local transport options, and outstanding accessibility by public transport to and from the rest of the metropolitan area.

Walking must be the priority mode in a dense place like the CBD; there are plenty of precedents for dramatically reducing car use in small areas. In most cases shared road space is the most plausible option, given the need to provide space for buses, trams, and service vehicles. How to deal with legacy parking stations is a key issue; owners will need incentives to provide new uses for them.

Shortlist revealed: 2017 National Architecture Awards

The Australian Institute of Architects has announced the shortlist for the 2017 National Architecture Awards. From a record 983 entries across state and territory chapter awards programs, 205 were eligible for judging by the national jury, which has shortlisted 72 projects, which will vie for the prestigious awards.

What is it about the design of this competition that resulted in 79% of entries being ruled ineligible (or is it something about architects themselves)?

More worrying for the rest of us is it’s 2017 and yet the Awards still have a category, Sustainable Architecture, as if sustainability is a quality that only some buildings should exhibit. Why isn’t there a category for Rainproof Architecture or Won’t Fall Down architecture? Exemplary sustainability should be a given, like structural integrity, fire safety and old-fashioned functionality.

There are two categories for detached houses with 15 shortlisted entries in total, compared to one category for higher density housing, with 7 nominations. Hardly reflective of the huge shift to town houses and apartments in Australian cities, but reflects where many architects earn their living.

Sydney’s Cloud Arch critics and our mean-spirited approach to public art

The final design traces a wispy, ethereal line that reaches up to lasoo and frame the sky above, offering a variety of views from different perspectives.

That might’ve been a fair description of the original idea – which was markedly more ribbon-like and sensuous – but the version that’s buildable has lost height, added weight, bulked-out the curves and, of course, tripled in cost. The Sydney Morning Herald published a telling side-by-side graphic comparison of the two versions; they’re different creatures.

The writer is Felicity Fenner, Director of UNSW Galleries. She dismisses critics as “mean-spirited” and says Australians have a “miserly approach to public art”. Elizabeth Farrelly, who reckons the new version “will excite Sydney”, insists the criticism is “dreary utilitarianism”, most of it from conservatives and shock-jocks.

I think they’ve missed the mark. My social media feeds reveal plenty of sophisticated Sydneysiders who supported the original version but think the latest one isn’t worth bothering with; it simply doesn’t have the magic. It’s not about the cost; it’s the quality of the art. This version doesn’t “materialise air”.

Should bike helmets be mandatory? Bicycle Network reviews its support of Australian law

Bicycle Network, which boasts a 50,000-strong membership, has supported mandatory helmet wearing for people who ride bikes since Australia introduced them in the early 1990s. It is now undertaking a policy review to assess its long-standing position on the issue — which could lead to a change.

This is big news. Bicycle Network is doubtless responding to criticism from members who oppose the law. The CEO, Craig Richards, emphasises though that the review does not pre-empt the outcome:

We may conclude our current position is the best one. Or we may conclude it’s not. We understand reviewing mandatory helmets will get messy. We understand the risks and that we can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Bicycle Network is running an on-line survey on the helmet law until 22 September and is aiming to complete the review by April 2018.

Australia is of course unique in that the helmet law’s been in place for 27 years, spanning two generations. That will make reform difficult. The key thing in my view is to ensure the debate doesn’t distract attention from the far more important objective of improving cycling infrastructure.

Parliament house fence: a plague on both our houses

Since Parliament House was opened by the Queen in 1988, there have been a number of changes to the precinct in the name of improved security. People haven’t been able to walk over the top of it since 2005, various bollards have been added, access to the ministerial wing has been restricted and police now guard the area with serious-looking guns.

But while these changes are significant, they have nothing on the 2.6metre-high steel fence that is under construction around the building.

Improvements in security at Parliament House are an inevitable adaptation to a growing threat. It’s a key target (just ask Guy Fawkes!) and, with a million visitors a year, there’s enormous potential for injury. But is that fence really the optimal solution for a place of such immense national significance? It’s not about the architecture; this is an interesting and worthy design but it’s not great. The issue is that the nation’s key institution deserves and justifies being treated with more dignity. There’s Italian green Cipollino marble and creamy pink Portugese Atlantide Rosa marble in the foyer and yet there’s a prison-grade variation on a galvabond fence on the outside?

Terrorism is not the reason Sydney is outside top 10 cities in global liveability index

Terrorism isn’t the reason that Sydney sucks more than it used to…(it’s) traffic congestion, profiteering toll roads and non-existent public transport links…(it’s) the war on Sydney’s culture…(it’s) the refusal to address the city’s housing crisis…(it’s) the way that all the things that make this such a wonderful place to be – the beaches, the mountains, the harbour, the city itself – are increasingly the exclusive preserve of the wealthy. 

Most of these issues are true of other large global cities like London, New York, Paris, San Francisco. Sydney isn’t the place it was even as recently as the 1990s; it’s now an international city. Many of the things that once made it “such a wonderful place to be” for those on average incomes – essentially the inner city as harbour living went aeons ago – are gone forever, or at least this side of the revolution.

More infrastructure, more housing supply and major reforms of the way housing is taxed will all help, but they won’t bring the old Sydney back for new generations. It’s time to proactively create new “wonderful things” in other parts of Sydney, especially along the rail lines. For many members of iGen, the other option is to realise there’s a whole world of other places they can live.

Sorry Melbourne, but you’re no Sydney, so stop trying so damn hard

Yes, houses might be a tad more expensive in our nation’s first state. But Prada is also more expensive than Target. Make of that what you will. The point is this: stop trying to make a Melbourne-Sydney feud happen. Because when it does, we will knock you out of the park – which, by the way, is a thing some cities have in their CBDs. Give it a try some time.

You can’t stop Sydney-Melbourne competition because it’s been going on since the nineteenth century. Allen and Unwin even published a book on the rivalry in 1985, The Sydney-Melbourne Book, edited by Jim Davidson. Judging by the 247 comments on this story, there’s still plenty of fire in the topic, propelled no doubt by Sydney’s high cost and Melbourne’s recent economic strength (see Is Melbourne better than Sydney?);

Here’s an interesting question: is the strong stand the Melbourne-headquartered AFL has taken on inclusiveness compared to the Sydney-headquartered NRL due in some part to cultural differences between Sydney and Melbourne?